I've heard Jeffrey Steingarten, on Iron Chef America, mention that he finds honey quite bitter. I've never noticed that myself. Maybe if I really try I can notice a slight bitter finish, but for me the sweetness and floral aroma dominates. Is honey actually bitter in some quantifiable sense? Are some particular varieties of honey better known for this characteristic?
It depends on what the bees had for lunch :) . Acacia honey is extremely sweet, with no bitter aftertaste. Chestnut honey (easy to find in Italy, don't know about elsewhere) is dark and has a strong bitter note. I personally love how the bittersweet goes with butter and bread, but some people hate it. Generic polyflower honey usually does not have a bitter note.
I also notice it myself, and it varies depending on the flowers and region. I read that there is a bitter honey from Sardinia, Miele Amaro.
I find honey's bitterness is in the aftertaste. I also find it--except in very cheap grades of honey--extremely pleasant. And useful when building flavour profiles in a dish.
Honey from chestnut flowers is very bitter.
This may be of interest.
I've just returned from Sardinia and they have a honey there that's described as bitter. The honey is from bees that collect pollen from the Arbutus unedo trees or 'Irish Strawberry Tree' (not actual strawberries but round fruit that look a little like strawberries.
"Arbutus unedo serves as a bee plant for honey production, and the fruits are food for birds. The fruits are also used to make jams, beverages, and liqueurs (such as the Portuguese medronho, a type of strong brandy). Many regions of Albania prepare the traditional drink raki from the fruits of the plant (mare or kocimare in Albanian), hence comes the name of the drink "raki kocimareje". In order to reduce the high content of methanol in the drink, the spirit is distilled twice. Honey produced has a characteristic bitter taste. In Turkey the fruit is called kocayemiş and it is consumed as a fresh fruit, usually sold in the streets in November and December."
The jar I got from Sardinia is shown attached, and in Sardinia it's known as Corbezzolo honey.
The taste certainly is bitter. There's some sweet notes initially but it rapidly turns bitter, though still of honey. Smooth finish. Certainly not to everyone's taste (my wife included) - But I love it.
There are varieties of honey that have an inherently bitter note. I personally search out sourwood honey for that character. It might be my favorite right after linden (or basswood here in the US) honey, which is not bitter but complex.
Living in the Philippines. Were wild honey is sold by boys walking the streets with a bucket with a comb in it to sell honey. With some bees still in it. Need your own bottle. You first taste it before buying. Some is sweet some is bitter. Even had some that taste of rosemary or we call it seamist. Very good for cooking. Dark honey normally has more pollen in it. Very dark honey has industrial use. Normally you do not see this sold. Strong flavor there. Also type of bee that made the honey. We have about a dozen types of bees some blue some red some like most see. Even the black African stile bee. So taste before you buy. Unless you know the brand name were sameness is important. There bottle not yours.
Over the past year I bought a small plastic bottle with a label that reads Raw Local Honey, Wild Flower. When I first opened the bottle and tasted it, I almost recoiled. I have never tasted honey like it; it is, to me, very bitter. So yes, bitter honey can happen.
Honey is stored in honeycomb which contains wax like components. The taste of honey depends on how effectively these wax components are removed from honey